Universities must learn from handling of shooting
April 18, 2007 9:00 p.m.
There are a few questions that have been circulating with regard to the Virginia Tech shootings. How many lives could have been saved if the administration had reacted differently? How would UCLA respond if such an event happened?
It’s pretty obvious that the administration of Virginia Tech could have responded differently. But what’s more important than the mistakes the administration at Virginia Tech made is how Virginia Tech and other universities can learn from these mistakes.
In response to the shooting, Interim Chancellor Norman Abrams released a statement on Monday. It began with information that should go without saying ““ student and faculty safety is a top priority ““ and then went on to say that UCPD officers are trained to handle shooting scenarios.
But that doesn’t answer my questions because that isn’t the issue. The issue was that students weren’t and couldn’t have been notified of the earlier shooting ““ when the gunman killed two people in the dormitories ““ in enough time to allow them to make an informed choice to not go to campus. There wasn’t even a system in place to contact students if the administration at Virginia Tech had decided to close the campus.
Sure, the police officers thought it was a domestic violence issue and that the suspect had left campus, but now that the administration at Virginia Tech knows better, it should be apologizing for the wrong choices it made and its lack of an emergency plan. Instead, it’s just making excuses.
One of the excuses Virginia Tech President Charles W. Steger gave for not closing down the campus and canceling classes was that he didn’t know what the alternative to students coming to class would be.
One has to ask, shouldn’t such an alternative be included in an emergency plan in case of such an incident? Shouldn’t the alternative have been known, available and rehearsed? After all, student and faculty safety is a top priority, is it not?
And does UCLA have such a plan?
Abrams’ statement went on to say, “UCLA has an emergency response team and protocols in place to notify the campus community in the event of any circumstances requiring emergency action, such as the closing of the campus.”
This gives me the impression that UCLA has such a plan in place. However, what that plan actually is befuddles me because what exactly would UCLA have been able to do differently?
They could have sent the warning e-mail out earlier, sure. But I don’t usually wake up in the morning with the thought of checking my e-mail to see if there’s a gunman on campus.
And as for students whose Internet was down, or don’t have home access, they wouldn’t have received the message at all.
I suppose they could start calling people, but it seems a little unrealistic to call more than 40,000 students and faculty. Besides, I don’t think UCLA even has my cell phone number.
In that case, they wouldn’t even reach me ““ they’d reach my parents’ house, and it’s likely they wouldn’t even be home.
There are concerns that if universities went overboard with safety regulation then students and faculty would have to compromise certain freedoms. But there are plans that wouldn’t impede everyday life that would be more effective than contacting students by e-mail.
According to the Washington Post, a campus spokesperson said that earlier in the semester, Virginia Tech had been working with a company with which they could contact students via text message in case of an emergency. Students would be required to submit their cell phone numbers when they registered for classes.
Whether this plan is going to be carried through wasn’t said.
Considering the number of people who own cell phones, and how often we check them for messages or otherwise, this could reach more people than an e-mail message would.
I don’t know what plan Abrams was referring to in his statement, but I hope it’s better than the one Virginia Tech had in place. And if it isn’t, I hope this so-called plan is reworked ““ maybe to include a text message notification system or otherwise.
In fact, the president of the University of California, Robert C. Dynes, said in his statement about the shootings that all UC campuses would be reviewing their security policies. He mentioned to the Daily Bruin that this system might incorporate emergency text messages.
This provides some comfort ““ as long as it happens soon. The next biggest shooting in modern American history could happen anytime, and it could happen on this campus. I want to know that we’re ready for it.
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